Taipei: A-Cut Steakhouse

Home sweet home.

After a 12.5 hour flight, which consisted of actual sleep and being woken up intermittently by the flight attendant who seemed to think I would prefer to eat questionably-edible airplane food than to rest (even when I had an eye mask on -_-), I’m finally home!

The humidity, now unbearable after being spoiled by perfect Cali weather for too long, greeted me along with my parents who, as Asian culture requires, had to comment on my perceptibly rounder face and weight gain. Thankfully, even with chubbier cheeks, I was allowed to indulge in one of my all-time favorite restaurants for lunch: A-Cut Steakhouse.

September 8, 2013 – A-Cut Steakhouse – Taipei, Taiwan

A-Cut is so amazing that even the bread, served at the beginning, is worth the trip and money. Fresh, warm from the oven, with just-the-right-amount-of-salty butter…

Appetizers:

House Made Smoked Salmon Terrine

“beetroot juice marinated, crab meat, anchovy dill butter, mustard oil”

Strange presentation with the layers of salmon wrapped in seaweed… but still so good.

 

Mushroom Cappuccino

This soup is not your typical “cream of mushroom”—it actually tastes more of mushroom than cream, with tangible shreds of mushroom in the mixture and foam on top (slightly disrupted because my uncle didn’t realize that my new food blogging habits meant that no one was allowed to start eating until I had taken a photo of every dish haha).

Romain Heart

Kind of mediocre, was pretty much just Caesar salad ingredients laid out aesthetically on a plate.

Entrees:

Surf & Turf: USDA natural NY steak 6 oz with seared king prawns

Seared King Prawn Linguine: a little too tomato-heavy for me.

“U.S. Snake River Farms Wagyu Beef Rossini”

In quotations because by itself, the name is kind of cryptic (Snake River Farms? Wagyu? and the only Rossini I know of is the composer). A better name would have been “6 oz filet with seared duck foie gras.” Or even better, and more truthful: Best. Steak. Ever.

Everyone at the table agreed that the filet was the most tender and juicy of all the steak choices. It was also the priciest, so I guess it made sense.

Desserts:

Cheese soufflé accompanied by guava sorbet

Some almond flavored dessert… not too exciting

Cake made from olives, with olive oil in a pipette. Interestingly tasty, but probably wouldn’t try it again. Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s a crime, not just a contradiction, for a dessert to be salty. 

And finally, a latte for the jet lag… although one could argue that a food coma was the true cause of my sleepiness.

Xanh - Vietnamese Cuisine

So I took the driving test a few weeks ago…

And I failed.

Took the driving test again two weeks later…

But this time (as you can probably guess from the subtle puppy to dog hint), I passed.

I’m happy to announce—much to everyone’s fear—that there is officially another Asian female driver on the road.

To celebrate this feat, Guh and I went to Xanh, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant. I’ve been going with “Zan” as a possible pronunciation of the restaurant name; if there were an exclamation mark in front of “Xanh,” I’m sure Russell Peters would be clicking his tongue. 

September 2, 2013 – Xanh Restaurant – Mountain View, CA

With mirrored globes hanging from the ceiling and neon blue highlights, the atmosphere in Xanh restaurant is that of a classy bar—there were even low-key disco lights illuminating the wall decorations.

While the restaurant vibes were sophisticated, the items on the menu were childishly playful: Mellow Yellow Noodles, “Pho You, Pho Me,” Xanh Enlightened Crab.

We started off the dinner with Crispy Shrimp Clouds: bite-sized shrimp cakes, topped with a fresh prawn and apple slices, served with a sweet and sour clear sauce.

 

The shrimp/rice cake bowl was deliciously crunchy and the taste of apple refreshed my palate. 

 For main dishes, we got Shaking Beef which was served inert, and Banana Leaf Sea Bass which was served like a 粽子.

The beef was on the rare end of the spectrum—perfect, in my opinion.

The banana leaf sea bass, uniquely topped with glass noodles, was a little flavorless compared to the beef but still just as tender. 

Was going to skip dessert for the sake of my failing weight-loss program… but after glancing at the dessert menu, we couldn’t resist.

After a solid five minutes of indecision, we went with hazelnut mousse: “a smooth hazelnut mousse topped on delicate layers of hazelnut crunch and chocolate sponge cake, accented with hazelnuts.”

Smooth, delicate, accented. Sounds mouthwatering, was mouthwatering. 

The dinner was meant to celebrate my newly acquired driver’s license, which apparently excluded actual driving skills in my brother’s eyes. Much to my dismay, my brother still wouldn’t let me sit behind the wheel on our way to and back from the restaurant. I know he’s under the impression that I fit into the Asian female driver stereotype, but I swear I can drive…

…better than those dogs.

LA: Blockheads Shavery

I went to LA two weekends ago and stuffed my face for three straight days. As proof, here is how I spent my last day in Fat Heaven: Urth Caffe for some hipster breakfast and coffee, Japanese red bean ice cream mochi in Little Tokyo, classy macaroons at Bottega Louie, French dip sandwiches at Phillippe (established in 1908) for a historical lunch, Carmela ice cream near the Grove, all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue, and Blockheads shaved ice. Yes, I hit up 7 food places all in one day, in that order.

Lana sings Summertime Sadness but I think it’s more like Summertime Fatness.

Because of all this feasting, I now have way too many restaurants in my food blog queue. I’m hoping I’ll be able to finish up before I head back to Taipei in 2 weeks… because the binge-eating will only continue when I get home (unfortunately? fortunately?). I’m probably packing on an additional Summer-Vacation-Ten at this rate but I tell myself it’s for the good of my food blog.

August 19, 2013 – Blockheads Shavery – Los Angeles, CA 

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It was 10 pm when we lined up for shaved ice at Blockheads Shavery. My flight, originally scheduled to depart at 9:25, had been pushed back to an estimate of 11:25 pm. I ignorantly assumed that it would be okay for me to get some dessert right before. Shaved ice should be a quick grab-and-go thing, since it’s, you know, shaved… ice…?

But no, at Blockheads Shavery, they serve Snow Cream. Snow Cream is made by their “certified Snow Cream gurus” who “shave each block only when it reaches the optimal temperature, ensuring every serving meets the highest of standards.” They really are not exaggerating. It took around 25 minutes for us to get our shaved ice, roughly including the time spent waiting in line. 

Snow Cream Guru at work:

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We ordered two bowls, both of which were recommended combinations. It seemed like the safer decision, since going the DIY mad-scientist route often results in dissatisfied taste buds.

Green Tea Snow Cream with Red Bean, Rice Cake, and Condensed Milk:

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One of my friends saw this picture and thought it was guacamole… HAHA. Also, rice cake was pretty much like soft mochi or 湯圓, so don’t be thrown off by its name.

Black Sesame Snow Cream with Rice Cake, Cookies and Cream, and Coconut Puree (excuse the blurry picture, I took it as we were rushing out of the restaurant in an attempt to catch my flight): 

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—- in the middle of deciding what to order —-

JC: Black sesame is the best, trust me, I’ve been here a lot of times.

Me: Really? Have you ever tried the green tea combination?

JC: No… I get black sesame every time I come.

Me: …

Though my friend’s claim that black sesame is the best combination is pretty sketchy and unfounded, I actually have to agree with him. I liked the black sesame combination more than the green tea combination; it was so unique, while the green tea combo, being a pretty common dessert in Taipei, came across as boring with its familiarity.

Only criticism I have is that the proportion of shaved ice to toppings/drizzle was disappointing. If they were more generous with their toppings, I would have definitely enjoyed it so much more (as well as if I had not been under so much time pressure…).

Menu for DIY and recommended snow cream combinations:

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It’s hard for me to judge whether Blockheads snow cream was worth the wait. It was quite a bittersweet experience, perhaps more bitter than sweet because of all the years of life I lost worrying as I stood in line, but then sweet because the shaved ice was quite good and I managed to get to the airport in a record of 10 minutes just to find that the flight had been delayed another 30 minutes. 

Despite the bittersweet memories I now have for Blockheads Shavery thanks to my poor, gluttonous decision, I still would definitely recommend this as a place to check out in LA.

Just don’t go right before your flight…

!Food: Hot Yoga

I know this blog is supposed to be food-centric. But after going to my first hot yoga class tonight (thanks to my roommate), I have to write about it.

Located just 12 minutes by car from Stanford, hot yoga seemed like an excellent idea at first: it accelerates weight loss, helps improve mental clarity, limits aging effects, and flushes out all toxins and impurities. Yoga in a heated room for 90 minutes? “100% exercise!” is what the website claimed.

Frankly, it was more like 100% hell.

5 reasons hot yoga reminds me of hell

1.The temperature is a toasty 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 degrees Celsius).

You will literally roast your insides out in this oven-room—think “well-done” in steak lingo.

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You will discover that sweat glands exist all over your body (yes, including your elbows), and that it is humanly possible to sweat, like a waterfall, in continuous gushes. It will feel increasingly suffocating with every second. It isn’t called “hot” yoga for nothing… and this is what they mean by “burning in hell.”

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2. I couldn’t stop crying.

Okay, slightly hyperbolic. But seriously, it all comes back to the copious amounts of sweat. The room was so damn hot that after a couple of minutes, I could feel water dripping from my eyes. There was so much liquid coming out from my pores that I couldn’t tell if I was crying from hell’s endless heat, or just sweating bucket-loads.

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3. The room smells of feet…

…or dead bodies leftover from the previous class, having disintegrated into invisible ashes by the fire.

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4. Speaking of dead bodies, the instructor kept asking us to get into the “dead body pose” for maximum blood flow and muscle relaxation.

Why not… “soldier pose” as drawn from sleeping position terms? Or even “lie on your back” would suffice. Panda knows how it’s done.

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5. Everyone looks satanic towards the end of class.

Red faces everywhere, doing poses like these:

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They weren’t too far from the truth when they said that hot yoga was cleansing. You will be cleansed all right—of your sins—once you are released from hell.

Even so, I think I will be going back next week. We did buy the 10 classes for $20 package deal, and it wasn’t too bad… though I may just be a tad bit masochistic.

Fu Lam Mum

August 4, 2013 – Fu Lam Mum – Mountain View, CA

Location: 153 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 

Dim sum. noun.

  • That dreaded “family” meal which usually requires a minimum of 4 people and 10 dishes, starts at 2 pm and spans at least three hours, and involves way too much talking and eating (although it seems that the two should have an inverse relationship). 

More conventionally, dim sum, also known as 飲茶 (drinking) or下午茶 (afternoon tea), is a style of Cantonese food served as individual portions in steamer baskets or on small plates. More literally, it means to “touch your heart.” And literally, it will touch—no, shock—your heart, with the three-hour-long consumption of deep-fried and steamed goodies in the afternoon that is sometimes followed by a regular dinner. But actually.

Taipei has such a prominent food culture that eating all day would be grossly easy. There are plenty of cafes and dim sum restaurants for the afternoon and places that serve all-day breakfast for the odd hours of the night, whether it be jetlag or clubbing that keeps you up late. And not to mention the 24-hour convenient stores, such as 7-11 and Family Mart, so densely packed in the small city that you will never fail to find one every few blocks. Strangely, obesity isn’t a problem.

Having been away from home for so long—almost 9 months now—I found myself missing dim sum, so a few weeks ago my friend and I went to a Cantonese restaurant. Our meal defied every aspect of my original definition of dim sum: we had a total of 2 people and 5 dishes, started at around 7 pm and ate for a mere hour, and though we did talk and eat, the talking and eating was approximately only a fifth of the usual amount.

We ordered 4 dim sum dishes for $15, presented here in order of most favorite to least favorite: 

蝦餃 - Steamed shrimp dumpling 

燒賣 - Steamed dumpling with shrimp and pork filling 

I know these dumplings look a little weird—as a child, I used to avoid this dish simply because of its bizarre appearance. But trust me, they are really good.

叉燒包 – Steamed bun with barbecue pork

 

糯米雞 - Sticky rice with chicken in lotus leaf

My one issue with this dish was the rice—it wasn’t sticky enough, the way 油飯 usually is. The only authentic part of this dish was the lotus leaf, which masked the imitation sticky rice that was pretty much just kernels of steamed rice packed together with some variant of soy-sauce.

To balance out the imbalanced amount of meat, we got 四季豆 (dry-fried green beans), which is one of my favorite veggie stir-fry dishes.

The worst part about Fu Lam Mum? It’s name—such a confusing mouthful of syllables that I would rather call it “that dim sum place” than botch up the pronunciation. 

The best part? It’s proximity to Tea Era. 

Driving is as easy as CREAM.

As I entered my lab, after surviving my driving lesson this morning…

Me: You’ll be happy to know that I’m still alive! 

Research mentor: How about everyone else on the road?

~*~*~*~*~

For some reason, no one seems to have faith in my driving skills. I know the Asian female is stereotyped to be a bad driver… I’ve observed it myself through my mom who: actually obeys the speed limit (it seems like only those without licenses do as my driving coach pointed out today), never has her back against the seat (sits turtle-style with her head poking forward), and refuses to drive anywhere outside of the 1 km radius that is Tian Mu (a small suburb of Taiwan). 

Yahoo! answers, the place I used to frequent back in the good old days of physics and WebAssign, provides some pretty funny responses to why Asian women are bad drivers:

Slightly racist, but pretty funny—“Too short to see over the dashboard.”

Still slightly racist, but still pretty funny—“um I think it’s just women, asians are good at everything (except football).”

Oh, and of course the internet already has a meme for Female Asian Drivers, Hunger Games style:

I digress. Point is, I’m going to get my license ASAP so the world of food opens up to me without the aid of Guh in public-transportation-unfriendly California, and I’m going to try my best to not be that Female Asian Driver.

Now, for a review of CREAM, one of the many places I managed to go to on the brief two day trip in Berkeley last weekend. 

July 27, 2013 - CREAM - Berkeley, CA

Cookies Rule Everything Around Me.

After eating a late lunch at the Brazil Cafe, Alison and I, while walking down Telegraph Avenue, noticed that there was an unusually short line at CREAM. CREAM recently opened in Palo Alto, much to Berkeley’s dismay since the ice cream sandwich shop was one of the few pros they had over Stanford (jokes, I’m not that into the whole Cal-Stanford rivalry)… but I never had the chance to try it because of the ridiculously long lines, which I thought were unwarranted.

I was wrong. Though the process of making an ice-cream sandwich was simple and trivial (the set up of CREAM looked so much like Coldstone with its counter that I assumed it would be an elaborate process to watch), the resulting sandwich was mindblowingly good.

For the two cookies, I chose snickerdoodle and chocolate chip; for the ice cream flavor, I went with french vanilla. The best part about the sandwich was that the cookies were fresh and still warm from the oven. Heavenly.

Side note: I just noticed that Berkeley’s CREAM is conveniently located right next to The Princeton Review (see picture above). No wonder they always have so many customers.

A Piece of Brazil

July 27, 2013 - Brazil Cafe - Berkeley, CA

Location: 2161 University Ave, Berkeley

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The Brazil Cafe seems like it would be hard to miss with its overflowing decorations of yellow and green—it screams Brazil. Somehow, even with its flamboyance, Alison and I walked straight past the cafe while looking for it. In our defense, the word “cafe” was misleading. You would think that the Brazil “Cafe” would be part of an actual building, like Starbucks. Much to our surprise, it turned out to be more of a food stall, but definitely not inconspicuous the way food stalls usually are in Taipei. 

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Looking intimidating yet oddly friendly in the photo as he sporks a chunk of cow, Pedro, who I am assuming is the founder of this charming food stall, suggested that we try his favorite Tri-Tip Sandwich with the Works.

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The name was downright confusing. First, how does “tri-tip” equal “steak?” Tri-tip seems like it would be a cousin of Q-tip—a more advanced, more stellar kind of cotton swab. Just did some inconclusive googling. Wikipedia seems to have the best guess, with tri-tip being a “small triangular muscle” cut from the “bottom sirloin.” Tri-tips are basically Cow Quads, as shown in this photo provided by Wiki: 

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As for “the Works,” I’m going to interpret it as a shortened version of fireworks… Fireworks makes some sense, since the sandwich was literally an explosion of flavors: garlic sauce, olives, jalapeños, and even pineapples. The only other time I’ve had pineapples mixed in with a salty entree is Hawaiian pizza; I usually enforce a strict rule of “salty and sweet must not be mixed,” because the former is an entree and the latter, dessert. Surprisingly, I couldn’t even taste the pineapples in the sandwich, so nicely meshed they were with the other ingredients. I guess it’s also possible that my taste buds are slightly on the dull side but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. 

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We also tried the mango smoothie: so fresh with real mangos, so thick it was almost the consistency of molasses. 

If you ever hit up Berkeley, you should definitely check out Brazil Cafe. It’s pretty much a tiny piece of touristified Brazil ruled by Pedro. 

For those who are in the mood to try something that is not one of “Pedro’s Favorites,” here is the menu:

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Philz Coffee—the right way.

July 4, 2013 - Philz Coffee - University Ave

if (numHoursSleep < 4) { OrderMintMojitoIcedCoffee(); }

My friends and I thought that celebrating Fourth of July before July 4th was an excellent idea. Why not freely dance, freely indulge in liquid happiness, and freely pick outrageous bedtimes… because we’re free and independent? (or America is at least). In retrospect, it was probably the worst decision ever, as int numHoursSleep = 3. I woke up on independence day feeling chained down by all the sleep I failed to get, and was unable to appreciate the rare day of work off fully… until I met Mr. Mint Mojito Iced Coffee at Philz Coffee, conveniently located about 7 minutes away on foot from the Palo Alto Caltrain Station.

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On mint: back in second grade, my friend Steph and I would always rip off leaves of mint in her garden and feed them to her dog, who would graciously accept our free dental care, in hopes of curing his case of chronic bad breath. So for the longest time, mint == dog food.

During the orchestra tour in Europe, however, I slowly grew to love mint with each mojito I had. So I decided to give MMIC another chance the second time around, and I was not disappointed. It was sweet, creamy, light, and refreshing all at the same time. 

If you’re still not satisfied with the drink after every drop of it has been consumed, then here is a more experimental (and graceful) way to finish a MMIC, as demonstrated by my friend, Kunal:

Step 1: Pick up mint leaf with fingers.

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Step 2: Chomp.

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It’s as easy as eating hummus.

But it also is reminiscent of Steph’s dog chewing on mint leaves…

Oren’s Hummus Shop

Throwback to a few weeks back—the idea of a blog came before the actual blog itself (hurray for procrastination), so I’m probably going to be posting a few “throwback” restaurants until I’ve completely emptied my queue of photos.

July 12, 2013 - Oren’s Hummus - University Ave

Charis, her roommate Sarah, Em Marx, Yifan, and I decided to go check out Oren’s Hummus Shop on Friday night, a few weeks ago.

The wall decorations consisted solely of the Hummus Eating Guide, shown below. Not really sure what they were trying to sell here: eating hummus is so easy that even this little kid has all the steps down? Or maybe they were just trying to go for a family-friendly vibe by showcasing pictures of this random kid/toddler/baby. To me, however, the presence of a toddler in front of a bowl of hummus distorts the hummus…making it look more like baby food O__o

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Nevertheless, the baby-food-like hummus was amazing. I decided to go with variety rather than straight up baby food, and got the Chicken Skewers entree with sides of hummus and… Israeli (?) chopped salad.  

Israeli?? I totally thought hummus was Greek. But anyway, the “Israeli” chopped salad wasn’t very exciting: plain cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, chopped up into bite-size pieces. Kind of flavorless in my opinion. On the other hand, the grilled chicken “skewers” (name is a bit misleading because I expected a stick of some sort and saw none) were soooo good. This entree looks pretty small, but I was honestly stuffed and could barely finish the chicken, let alone the mound of hummus. 

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Here was the falafel side we ordered to share. It was the first time I had eaten real falafels, outside of the dining hall context, and man, were they good.

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Pita bread (notice how we tried being healthy with the whole wheat)

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I have no idea what these two sauces were called, or what we were supposed to pair them with. So we just tried pita bread with Green Spicy Sauce and Red Spicy Sauce, because as we know all, you can never go wrong with a pita bread combination.

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Side note: my brother is wrong—here is a restaurant he has not been to. Ha. 

Tofu House & Tea Era

Me: 哥, I’m going to create a food blog.

Guh: Well, I’m not going to read it.

Me: What, why!?!

Guh: Because all the restaurants you blog about will be the same restaurants I eat at… since you can’t drive.

———-

I’ve always wanted to create a food blog, but never got around to it because I was too busy (aka too lazy) transitioning into college. But finally, with the free time I have now in the summer and fewer meal plan restrictions, I’ve been able to break out of the Stanford bubble, struggle with public transit, make use of my brother’s car/driving skills (and sometimes my driving skills when he’s feeling generous and willing to risk his life and car), to try various restaurants in the Bay Area, and start this blog… 

July 21, 2013 - So Go Dong Tofu House and Tea Era(茶殿)

Tofu House: 4127 El Camino Real, Palo AltoCA 94306

Tea Era: 271 Castro St Mountain ViewCA 94041

Tofu House was pretty crowded when my brother and I got there at around 7 pm (I know the photo doesn’t really look it). But the restaurant excels in efficiency—when they say you’ll be seated in 15 minutes, they really mean it. Also, you can place your orders before you get seated, and they time it so that your food is pretty much ready when you get your table.

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One of my favorite things about Tofu House is all the cold side dishes they serve right when you sit down. The cucumber drenched in vinegar and salt, the 黃豆芽 (translated as soybean sprout according to google…), kimchi that was just the right amount of sour and spicy, the rice noodles (my absolute favorite!) and the potatoes that had a miso-taste to it.

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My brother ordered BBQ short ribs and they were so damn good. The meat was super 嫩 (tender), and not too fatty… although 哥 would probably argue that fat and level of yumminess are positively correlated.

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I ordered my go-to dish at all Korean restaurants: Beef Bibimbap (牛肉石鍋拌飯). Bibimbap is usually a concoction of rice, some type of meat (chicken, pork, beef), veggies, and an egg yolk. The best part about this dish is the 鍋巴 (crunchy rice) that results from being heated in a 石鍋 (clay pot). Excuse my random insertions of Chinese terms… I’m so used to ordering food in Chinese that I can’t automatically substitute the English phrases and have to google translate. It’s comparable to watching an American movie in Chinese with English subtitles, which is pretty painful in my opinion.

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And of course, no (Asian) meal is ever complete without a boba trip. 

Meet 百香果QQ (Passion fruit QQ): passion fruit green tea, tapioca, and coconut jelly. This is a drink that you can get at almost any Taiwanese tea shop; here, I always have to custom order. This time I tried lychee jelly instead of coconut jelly and the flavor was still the same sugar rush. Side note: I actually drove to Castro from Tofu House. 哥 was not too happy about it and kept complaining that I was driving too close to the right #newbiedriverhere but we made it safely and that’s all that matters.

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I can’t decide which—Tea Era or Verde Tea—is the superior boba shop. 哥 thinks Tea Era (as does Yelp), but almost all my friends have preferred Verde.